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Arriving once again in Midgar’s Sector 7, we weren’t surprised to see a few familiar faces. From old buddies like Jesse and Wedge to more recent acquaintances, Kyrie and Chadley. But we know by now that Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t satisfied with predictable reunions. It likes to dig deep into its source material and re-imagine choice cuts with a modern twist.
So it continues with INTERmission, a paid-for DLC episode for the PS5 version of Remake which follows young ninja Yuffie Kisaragi, making a previously uncharted visit to Midgar to steal Shinra Corp’s ‘ultimate materia’. One thing we definitely didn’t expect to encounter in the city slums was Fort Condor, and what a pleasant surprise it turned out to be.
In the Final Fantasy VII of old, Fort Condor was a location far from Midgar, where you ploughed resources into a rather plodding tower defence mini-game, to protect a giant egg sat on the peak of a mountain. In INTERmission, it’s a board game, where you and an opponent attempt to destroy each other’s bases by strategically selecting combat units and casting spells.
It sums up so much of Remake’s winning formula – the knack of expertly judging what to mine from the past, chipping at the veins of nostalgia, and how to develop it into a compellingly fresh attraction. And so we spent a couple of hours charging about the slums, challenging other Condor players and improving our collection of pieces and boards.
Gallery: FF7R PS5 vs. PS4
Of course, the real focus in INTERmission is on Yuffie, and like Fort Condor, like the player characters in the main game, she’s been recreated with an elegant combination of established traits and modern flair. She’s bratty in a way that can grate, but then she always was. And if it’s far-fetched that someone so boisterous has been entrusted with an undercover mission into Shinra territory, that gels with the inner silliness of VII that Remake happily nurtures.
At the same time, today’s Yuffie – which we still can’t get used to hearing pronounced as ‘Yoofie’ – has a little more about her. She’s childishly adventurous, dressed in her Moogle cape, sprinting around with arms and eyes wide at the thought of new materia. Equally she’s desperate to prove herself in an adult world, and her enthusiasm covers for some repressed vulnerabilities. It’s a combination that establishes her character with fresh appeal and intrigue for later episodes.
The two chapters in INTERmission effectively mirror the two sides of Yuffie, too. The first is bright and frivolous with the excitement of her arrival and touristic desire to experience a taste of Midgar. The second is down to business, developing her relationship with fellow Wutai agent Sonon, as they infiltrate Shinra tower’s basement research labs.
“Because so much of the game takes place in scrapyards and Shinra facilities, there’s not the range of opponents there might be. Even bosses get a little predictable, except the multi-phase final villain”
While the second half concentrates more on combat challenges, then, the first is an eclectic bag of treats. Especially neat is how it contrasts with Cloud’s presence in the slums in the main game, as a dour, jobbing merc. Yuffie sees the place with fresh, adventurous eyes, and so, therefore, do we. It’s a tonal switch that’s expertly supported by new additions to the soundtrack, from a remix of the old game’s Wutai theme, to a medley of hip-hop, metal and swinging jazz that match Yuffie’s teen exuberance.
As for the combat, throughout INTERmission you’ll be fighting as Yuffie alone or alongside the staff-wielding Sonon, who you can only direct to use spells and abilities, and Yuffie is quick and versatile to suit her starring role. She can hack away up close with her oversized boomerang-like weapon, or launch it from afar, wedging it into an enemy then pelting them with ninjutsu magic. Having an all-purpose magic attack available at all times also means you can forego a lot of elemental materia, loading Yuffie with skills and passive-boosts instead.
Sonon then fits around Yuffie’s style, not least protecting the fragile ninja from damage in various ways. The two can also ‘synergise’ to synchronise their efforts or unleash powerful special moves, and timing links is as important as timing your blocks and dodges. As in the main game, bigger battles often require little tactical adjustments to win, and it’s highly gratifying when a tough foe falls to a new approach.
However, because you’re controlling the same one-and-a-half characters for many fights, INTERmission does miss the complex dynamics of a full party. And because so much of the game takes place in scrapyards and Shinra facilities, there’s not the range of opponents there might be. Even bosses get a little predictable, except the multi-phase final villain (who series veterans may remember from another FFVII spin-off game).
Indeed, the one downside of INTERmission is that, while many of its maps are new, the familiar scenery of industrial squalor and metallic labs, full of armoured security forces and mechanical monstrosities, starts to feel overused, particularly in the second half. It’s fair to say that Square Enix has wrung every last drop of intrigue out of Midgar’s architecture now.
Still, there’s more than enough substance, variety and surprise to make Yuffie’s quest worthwhile. If anything, the optional side quests and mini-games are the more enjoyable part this time around, and with those factored in it took us nearly nine hours to see the end. We still have Hard mode and some additional VR challenges to return to, plus a new VR challenge now unlocked in the main game.
“Remake remains a confident modern classic which revives gaming’s most memorable JRPG team with exceptional fidelity, reworks best-in-class combat and materia systems into something equally robust yet more dynamic, and bestows Midgar and its events with the scale they could once only imply”
Talking of which, we’ve also played about half of Remake Episode 1 again in its PS5 Intergrade form. It’s a fairly basic upgrade, notable mainly for instant loading times (on that note, you also won’t have to waste time slowly squeezing through tight gaps in INTERmission), and a choice of graphics modes, prioritising either 4k display or 60fps, along with some minor texture and lighting improvements.
A couple of other new features, though, are a little underwhelming – the rather muted addition of haptic feedback on the DualSense controller, and a photo mode that could do with more attention. It offers camera control, filters and the option to remove characters from landscapes. But misses features like depth of field and, in a game where the characters are so iconic, not being able to position and pose them is disappointing.
Nevertheless, Remake remains a confident modern classic which revives gaming’s most memorable JRPG team with exceptional fidelity, reworks best-in-class combat and materia systems into something equally robust yet more dynamic, and bestows Midgar and its events with the scale they could once only imply.
Its one stumbling block is still the sense of padding in some of the dungeons and side quests. As wonderful as it is to see the city fleshed out into an entire game, it slows the narrative pace and forces an overly climactic finish that doesn’t belong – although conceptually, the possibility it creates that future episodes may proceed differently from the original has fascinating potential.
Perhaps Square Enix have made a rod for their own back if they intend to retell the whole Final Fantasy VII story, now that they’ve brought so many elements forward and magnified so greatly. But Remake has got most things right to this point, and seems to be enjoying itself so much that we’re happy to go along for the ride.
We certainly have an even greater sense of anticipation for seeing the new Yuffie meet up with Cloud and the gang in the next episode. Hopefully we’ll also get to play a few more matches of Fort Condor or, even better, something just as surprising again.
INTERmission is a classy addition to one of last year’s best games, which itself runs a little better now on PS5. It’s great to see Yuffie again, brought up-to-date to match the rest of the cast and providing her uniquely wide-eyed perspective on Midgar. We’re ready to move on from the great city now, but this is a fine farewell party.
- A good chunk of new content in INTERmission
- Yuffie is a fun character offering a different style of adventure
- The main game is still an excellent re-imagining of the classic original
- And now comes with minor performance enhancements
- The enhancements to the main game could have been more substantial